I didn't quite make the cut into the "sorority" my junior year as did some of my friends, but I was thrilled to be chosen the summer before my senior year. That is -- until I realized that my best friend wasn't among the chosen ones. She was a Catholic. At the time, Catholics were not included at least in my high school Tri-Hi-Y.
I'm sure blacks were banned as well, but at the time black and white teenagers generally stayed in their own cliques so I had no way of knowing how exclusion impacted African-American classmates. The West Virginia side of my family would not have approved of black friends, although my Mississippi father constantly emphasized that "black people are just as good as white people." At that time, even good WASPs (white anglo-saxton protestants) still bought into separate as equal.
However, I did realize my Italian Catholic friend felt left out and hurt. Her exclusion from the group was my first lesson that separate does not in anyway feel equal. She told me it was OK to continue with Tri-Hi-Y. I wrestled with the idea of resigning at first, but as an egocentric adolescent I eventually decided to remain in the organization because membership meant that for once I was "popular," the dream of most teenage girls. I failed to listen to that still, small voice within. Years later, I regret that I didn't stand up for my friend on the basis of a rationalization that is absolutely meaningless today.
I've come to realize that most often we humans don't regret what we do. We regret what we don't do. My fear is that we will live to see the day that the insured will regret not taking a stand on healthcare reform for the uninsured and underinsured. West Virginia lawmakers may one day regret that they chose to support temporary jobs and ignore property and human costs in Southern and Central West Virginia by permitting mountaintop removal -- not to mention that all state residents may regret failing to protect the Earth that God has entrusted to us. I also fear that we will regret not calling out behavior that feeds hate and threats of violence against our president or any other human beings.
My guess is that taking a stand is exactly what Nancy Pelosi and Jimmy Carter were trying to do when they urged recognition of attitudes and behaviors that whip up baser instincts of humankind to demonize those who think differently from others. It didn't take long for the very commentators and media, who pander to right-wing extremists, to go on the attack. Even President Obama played down racism as the overriding cause of opposition to healthcare reform. He wants to focus on the issue at hand and not get off on tangents that will distract people who do disagree with his policies for reasons other than bigotry. He wants to negotiate with his opponents.
Yet I can't stop thinking about the era in the 1960s when Catholics -- not to mention black people wanting equal rights -- were demonized. The political environment has the same feel these days. People were angry. People were scared. And people at both ends of the political spectrum -- left and right -- were worked up into a frenzy of hate against those who were different or who believed differently. There were fewer moderates and more folks with the attitude of "which side are you on?" Middle ground? What is that?
How much did that frenzy contribute to leftist-leaning Lee Harvey Oswald assassinating President John F. Kennedy in 1963? How much did hate contribute to the assassinations of Israel-supporter and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 -- the same year, I might add, that I threw my Catholic friend under the bus? The atmosphere of hate was palpable during that era. The fear-mongering of that day also was based mostly on lies about the dangers of the opposition.
So how do Christians decipher the proper attitude toward those who are different and when do they take a stand? We have no further to look than The Parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Jesus reminds us not only that we need to love one another as ourselves but that we should recognize that others who are different from us also are good and decent human beings. A more recent philosopher, German pastor Martin Niemoller, had wise words that should encourage those even slightly left or right of center to take pause. He expressed regret at not trying to thwart the atmosphere that led to the Holocaust. He recognized too late that any actions threatening one group may eventually lead to all of us becoming victims, as was the case in World War II. Throughout history, death -- from assassination, war, or the razing of the Earth -- has been the ultimate progression of hate and often greed.
Whether or not the healthcare reform debate is Obama's Waterloo, whether or not race is a factor in opposition to the president's policies, whether or not mountaintop removal should continue, and whether or not we agree with each other is less important in the long run than the way we conduct the social discourse of our politics. Should we stand up against the atmosphere of hate being perpetuated? Should we stand up against the lies? Should we call out for civility before someone gets hurt?
I know where I stand. How about the rest of you? Perhaps as the late Mary Travers sang so beautifully, "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind...."
Nancy Miller-Burk is interested in comments from lefties and righties, and everyone in between. She asks, though, that you follow rules of civility posted in her first blog. Thanks.